Nancy Binay to file bill vs ‘forced savings’

MANILA, Philippines – After scrutinizing the administration’s spending program in a Senate hearing, opposition Senator Nancy Binay now plans to file a bill against what she calls “forced savings.”

Binay said that to prevent a repeat of the practices under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional, she will propose a measure to ensure that agencies properly execute projects that Congress approves in the budget.

“I will file a bill or a resolution that agencies must have the liability to implement projects. What if sinadya nilang hindi ituloy ang proyekto para may savings? Pag-aaralan naming mabuti iyan,” Binay said in a press briefing on Thursday, July 31.

(What if they deliberately do not push through with a project to generate savings? We will study that carefully.)

The DAP is the administration’s spending measure aimed to address underspending and pump-prime the economy from 2011 to 2013. Yet the Supreme Court declared key acts under it unconstitutional, including declaring withdrawn unobligated allotments and unreleased appropriations as savings before the end of the fiscal year.

Binay said her proposal stems from the revelation in the Senate hearing last week that the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) did not push through with projects approved in the budget worth P14 billion ($323.25 million*), including the rehabilitation of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1.

“Here in the Senate, it takes how many hearings before we approve the budget and then we find out the projects did not push through, and the funds for the project were used for other purposes that we did not approve of. NAIA 1’s upgrade and rehabilitation were funded for how many years? Until now, there is still no aircon,” Binay said.

She added, “More flights are coming in, as the President said in his [State of the Nation Address]. The tourists should come back. If you are a tourist, will you return if you see that the airport is that way?”

Binay said her legislative staff will study the proposal and iron out the details, but the bill will address concerns raised over DAP.  

“Ang tanong bakit hindi na-implement ang proyekto? Ang pag-repair ng banyo, mahirap bang mag-repair ng banyo?” (The question is: why was the project not implemented? Is it hard to repair toilets?)

During the hearing last week, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya explained that his department did not anticipate that rehabilitating the airport would entail more than just cosmetic improvements but also resolving structural issues. He said that the DOTC instead decided to procure materials in bulk because this will be cheaper for the government.

Senate finance committee chairman Francis Escudero though said that Congress will have to be circumspect about Binay’s proposal.

“It’s not that easy to run the government. What if there is a [temporary restraining order] issued, and the agency cannot implement the project? What if someone files a case because the right of way was not paid for? These unforeseen circumstances, we can’t provide for. But clearly those that simply proposed budgets, we will ensure in the budget deliberations that they can implement the projects they propose,” Escudero said.

Escudero said he will introduce provisions in the budget to ensure that agencies spend the funds alloted to them, or seek a supplemental budget from Congress if they want to use savings.  

The executive submitted to Congress on Wednesday the 2015 budget proposal worth P2.606 trillion, including P501.7 billion ($11.54 billion) in lump sum appropriations known as Special Purpose Funds. 

Minority to look into ‘bottom-up budgeting’

Binay said that the executive branch must be required to regularly report to Congress about the implementation of the budget.

“It’s high time for the executive department to report the status of projects approved in the [budget]. Even Senator [Ralph] Recto was surprised and said he has been defending the budget and thought that this whole time, the project already started only to find out it did not push through. It would be better for all of us to have the information,” Binay said.  

Binay said the Senate minority will look into the bottom-up budgeting initiative of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Bottom-up budgeting is an approach in budget preparation where grassroots communities are engaged in crafting the budget in 300 to 400 of the poorest municipalities to prepare “community-level poverty reduction and empowerment plans.”

The senator said she wants to know how much money goes to civil society organizations (CSOs) and people’s organizations (POs). “Who accredits these CSOs and POs? Is there money going to them? Because when you see the DAP list, it seems like there were seminars done for them.”

Stricter budget scrutiny

After the controversies, Binay said the opposition will put greater focus on scrutinizing the 2015 budget of the Department of Health, Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, particularly its Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program.

The CCT is the government’s flagship poverty alleviation program where the poorest families are given cash grants to keep their children in school and make them healthy.

Binay said: “I must admit it seems the CCT helps but my concern is: is there a study of the beneficiaries of the CCT? How many of them rose from poverty? Validation will show how successful this program is. I also want to see exit mechanisms because this program should have an ending at some point.”

The senator and her colleagues in the Senate minority, particularly Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada, had made the same statement last year, prior to deliberations on the proposed 2014 national budget.  (Read: Nancy Binay: UNA to check DILG, CCT budget)

It had been observed that the Senate minority did not live up to its promise to closely scrutinize the proposed 2014 budget last year due to the implication of two of its key members in the multimillion-peso pork barrel scam, namely Enrile and Estrada.

Binay said scrutinizing the budget is a job not just of the minority but of all lawmakers. Senator Bam Aquino agreed. 

“Controversies have taught us to put our budget under the microscope to avoid a repeat of issues such as PDAF and DAP. We also must be on guard against illegal insertions by crooked individuals who may try to pull a fast one,” Aquino said. –